We’re terribly sorry but please keep your opinions to yourselves; you see, white saviours sharing their opinions has never brought anyone any good.
From the first ship of looting thieves that docked at the subcontinent’s shores in the 1600s to white tourists turned cultural commentators taking on the role of Pakistan’s saviours, it hasn’t been an uphill journey. I know a vacation to Africa is a cliche now, taking and sharing pictures stereotyping the country’s people as poor and destitute doesn’t work anymore, so you thought you’d turn your eye towards the poor brown folks.
Why are we talking about this? In the most recent incident, Katherine George who goes by @iKatherineGeorg on Twitter, posted saying “No one in the world respects women as much as Pakistani men. Very respectful and humble” and “Pakistan is a country that loves and respects women”. The tweet gained massive backlash for not acknowledging the how badly this statement reeks of white privilege. Since then, many think the account is a decoy as the pictures themselves were stolen form a Polish woman named Aleks Mroz. But that doesn’t change the problem at hand: the white saviour complex is just another colonial hangover we need to shake off.
Cynthia Dawn Ritchie, a filmmaker who came to Pakistan as a tourist in 2009, was an ordinary American woman living in Houston, Texas. Soon after her arrival, she posted the trailer of a documentary on Pakistan she was going to release, and it made her famous overnight – side note: the documentary’s existence is still questionable.
In 2018, Ritchie was seen cycling in Peshawar as though she was on the set of some bad rom-com – there were also pictures of her driving a riksha and a truck. Her antics gained mixed reviews: while nationalists rejoiced Ritche’s efforts to showcase a ‘tolerant’ Pakistan, many acknowledged that being a white woman has many privileges in a brown country and you’re just not treated the same. Case in point: 53 year old Shamim Akhtar from Rawalpindi was Pakistan’s first female truck driver and 3 years later, Ritchie is out there, trivialising the issue.
Why is this problematic? In the very city where Ritchie went for a bike ride another feminist rally was called off, simply because they weren’t white enough to walk freely in their own hometown. The same Balochistan where Gabrielle biked solo, a horrible tragedy took place. Just two months ago in January near the small town of Mach, not far from the provincial capital of Quetta, 11 coal miners belonging to the Hazara Shia community were massacred. This is one of the many such attacks that take place in this are every year, sometimes even bi-annually.
When you white-wash the stories of brown women, you bury decades of pain and campaigning for visibility and justice. Just a few months ago, the Lahore-Sialkot motorway incident shocked Pakistan, what was more shocking was the head of police , blaming it on the victim for travelling so late without a male escort.
The problem with past and future Karens is that when they show a false narrative, a) you trivialise serious issues which the community faces and deflect the conversation from how to solve this mess to “who is this white woman biking around” b) you come off as government propaganda, making it worse for people who actually want to write about real stuff and not do a staged cycle run. Yes, it was staged, and funnily enough Cynthia confessed to it.
We’ve learnt to treat our problems like a drug addict; every time something gets too difficult we take another hit, it’s definitely effective in the start but it’s short term and it only makes the problem or well problems worse in the long run.
The problem is not foreigners coming to visit the country, tourism is an excellent source of money for local communities and it boosts the economy but fake influencers posing as journalists or adventure travellers aren’t going to help our case. Hate to break it to you, but the world watches the news. You’re more than welcome to come to Pakistan, dine and also wine, but please keep your opinions where they came from i.e. to yourself because we, the poor brown folks, aren’t buying it anymore.